The Legislative Budget Conference Committee has reached agreement on the State budget, with the much watched municipal health care reform portion surviving with substantive reform intact. From the State House News Service:
The final proposal, according to a budget document obtained by the News Service, allows municipalities to present a proposal for plan design changes, including increases in co-payments and deductibles, or suggest transferring of employees into the state’s Group Insurance Commission to a public employee committee.
The city or town would have 30 days to negotiate the changes with the committee – comprised of one member from each collective bargaining unit and a retiree representative – as well as proposals to offset the impact of higher employee costs with programs such as health reimbursement accounts.
The final draft of the municipal health reform plan combines several of the strategies recommended by the House and Senate in their initial budgets, while compromising in the middle on the amount of savings each city and town will realize as a result of shifting some health care costs to workers.
While the Senate called for up to 33 percent of savings to go back to employees and the House recommended 10 percent to 20 percent, the final budget calls for up to 25 percent to come back to employees. …If a majority of the employee committee does not agree to the management offer after 30 days, a three-person panel, including one independent arbiter, would be authorized to implement the plan design changes, but would be given 10 days to decide how to share up to 25 percent of the achieved savings with subscribers, including retirees, low-income subscribers and large health care utilizers.
Co-payment and deductible levels would not be allowed to exceed those of the most-subscribed health plan in the GIC for each employee group, under the terms of the agreement, but increases beyond that level could still be pursued through traditional collective bargaining.
So the conferees came to a compromise that gives labor a voice, but not a veto. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation spoke favorably about the Conference Committee recommendations.
“I think this is a very constructive compromise which takes the best of the House and Senate proposals,” Widmer said. “As a result municipalities will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars over the next decade, while preserving critical jobs and services and still providing generous health care benefits for municipal employees and retirees.”
Kudos to House Chair Brian Dempsey and Senate Chair Steve Brewer for all of their hard work on the budget. It appears, according to the State House News Service, that the Legislature will utilize some remainder monies to offset the 7% local aid cut that was part of the budget. If that is accurate further thanks and recognition should go to the Conference Committee and the House and Senate leadership for helping the locals to maintain services and jobs. Great job.